Anuja Ghosalkar talks about her play Lady Anandi, finding herself during the process and how she is breaking gender norms
A ghost story of a man dressed as a woman. Shocked and confused to read this? Same here.
But it is not as complicated as it seems. Written and enacted by Anuja Ghosalkar, Lady Anandi is the story of a female actor, Lady F, who, every time she goes up on stage, is haunted by the ghost of her great grandfather — a female impersonator in late 19th century Marathi theatre, and her love for moustaches.
Using a series of photographs, anecdotes and fiction, Ghosalkar weaves through time periods to find her great grandfather. Lady Anandi has been performed as a work-in-progress across India and debuted in Sweden.
The performance is based on extensive research and is an exploration of a personal archive. It brings together elements like performance, history, early photography and gender. The text was written during Ghosalkar’s month-long residency at Art Lab Gnesta, Sweden. It is being presented at that moment when research ends and performance begins. So it is an unfinished piece — created as an active exploration that evolves with its audience. It aims to draw the audience’s attention to the process of making work rather than presenting a finished product. In the absence of a director, the audience take on that role.
Talking about the play, Ghosalkar says, “I started researching in 2014 and it took me two and a half years to actually write it down. I wanted to create work that had my own voice and was not linear. It is a solo show where I introduce the past and the present during the play. The physical transitions are portrayed through my body where I work with a moustache, bangles and earrings to make myself look feminine and there are photographs which work as illustrations or deliver a message.”
Ghosalkar also feels that people hold really radical opinions when it comes to genders but she personally doesn’t wish to conform by any of these rules. And she has tried to display the same through the character of Anandi. Says she, “I didn’t want to showcase a woman as innocent or virginal. Instead, I wanted to bring out a dark side to her. Lady Anandi was in fact a really manipulative and malicious woman and I wanted to reflect the same.”
Even though she has been acting from the age of five, it was only at the age of 34 that she decided to leave her job and become a full-time actor. It is now that she has really come to terms with being the actor. She explains, “I receive a lot of feedback from the audience and over the period of time a lot of things have changed, I have physically changed. I have performed 30 shows so far but I still get nervous. Although, truth be told,it has been emotionally and intellectually draining. It was a search for my great grandfather Madhav Rao who was a theatre actor and was missing from history. I wanted to know the reason behind that. It was about finding myself, where I come from and where I belong. And in this process, I have become very vulnerable but have also come out stronger than ever.”
Her decision to be a full-time actor at the age of 34 got her a lot of flak from people. Many judged her for her appearance, the way she walked and talked but the self-proclaimed feminist has managed to move past these barriers. She says, “People do judge a lot. It is also because our bodies are always in front of the audience. Gender is a social construct and there is this idea that women should look a certain way. For example, Hamlet can be played by a rough and tough guy but Ophelia has to be soft, young, beautiful and thin.”